The Other House, by Henry James

xxiii

HE had, in this preparation, the full advantage of Rose, who, quite thrown for the moment off her balance, was vividly unable to give any account of the apparition which should be profitable to herself. The violence of her surprise made her catch the back of the nearest chair, on which she covertly rested, directing at her old suitor from this position the widest eyes the master of Bounds had ever seen her unwittingly open. To perceive this, however, was to be almost simultaneously struck, and even to be not a little charmed, with the clever quickness of her recovery that of a person constitutionally averse to making unmeasured displays. Rose was capable of astonishment, as she was capable of other kinds of emotion; but she was as little capable of giving way to it as she was of giving way to other kinds; so that both of her companions immediately saw her moved by the sense that a perturbing incident could at the worst do her no such evil turn as she might suffer by taking it in the wrong way. Tony became aware, in addition, that the fact communicated to him by Mrs. Beever gave him an advantage even over the poor fellow whose face, as he stood there, showed the traces of an insufficient forecast of two things;

one of them the influence on all his pulses of the sight again, after such an interval, and in the high insolence of life and strength, of the woman he had lost and still loved; the other the instant effect on his imagination of his finding her intimately engaged with the man who had been, however without fault, the occasion of her perversity. Vidal’s marked alertness had momentarily failed him; he paused in his advance long enough to give Tony, after noting and regretting his agitation, time to feel that Rose was already as colourlessly bland as a sensitive woman could wish to be.

All this made the silence, however brief and it was much briefer than my account of it vibrate to such a tune as to prompt Tony to speak as soon as possible in the interest of harmony. What directly concerned him was that he had last seen Vidal as his own duly appreciative guest, and he offered him a hand freely charged with reminders of that quality. He was refreshed and even a little surprised to observe that the young man took it, after all, with out stiffness; but the strangest thing in the world was that as he cordially brought him up the bank he had a mystic glimpse of the fact that Rose Armiger, with her heart in her throat, was waiting for some sign as to whether she might, for the benefit of her intercourse with himself, safely take the ground of having expected what had happened having perhaps even brought it about. She naturally took counsel of her fears, and Tony, suddenly more elated than he could have given a reason for being, was ready to concur in any attempt she might make to save her appearance of knowing no reproach. Yet, foreseeing the awkwardness that might arise from her committing herself too rashly, he made haste to say to Dennis that he would have been startled if he had not been forewarned: Mrs. Beever had mentioned to him the visit she had just received.

“Ah, she told you?” Dennis asked.

“Me only as a great sign of confidence,” Tony laughed.

Rose, at this, could be amazed with superiority. “What? you’ve already been here? ”

“An hour ago,” said Dennis. “I asked Mrs. Beever not to tell you.”

That was a chance for positive criticism. “ She obeyed your request to the letter. But why in the world such portentous secrecy?” Rose spoke as if there was no shade of a reason for his feeling shy, and now gave him an excellent example of the right tone. She had emulated Tony’s own gesture of welcome, and he said to himself that no young woman could have stretched a more elastic arm across a desert of four cold years.

“I can explain to you better,” Dennis replied, “why I emerged than why I vanished.”

“You emerged, I suppose, because you wanted to see me.” Rose spoke to one of her admirers, but she looked, she even laughed, at the other, showing him by this time an aspect completely and inscru tably renewed. “ You knew I was here? ”

“At Wilverley?” Dennis hesitated. “ I took it for granted.”

“I’m afraid it was really for Miss Armiger you came,” Tony remarked in the spirit of pleasantry. It seemed to him that the spirit of pleasantry would help them on.

It had its result it proved contagious. “ I would still say so before her even if it weren’t! ” Dennis returned.

Rose took up the joke. “ Fortunately it’s true so it saves you a fib.”

“It saves me a fib!” Dennis said.

In this way the trick was successfully played they found their feet; with the added amusement for Tony of hearing the necessary falsehood uttered neither by himself nor by Rose, but by a man whose veracity, from the first, on that earlier day, of looking at him, he had felt to be almost incompatible with the flow of conversation. It was more and more distinct while the minutes elapsed that the secondary effect of her old friend’s reappearance was to make Rose shine with a more convenient light; and she met her embarrassment, every way, with so happy an art that Tony was moved to deplore afresh the complication that estranged him from a woman of such gifts. It made up indeed a little for this that he was also never so possessed of his own as when there was something to carry off or to put, as the phrase was, through. His light hand, his slightly florid facility were the things that in managing, in presiding, had rendered him so widely popular; and wasn’t he, precisely, a little presiding, wasn’t he a good deal managing just now? Vidal would be a blessed diversion especially if he should be pressed into the service as one: Tony was content for the moment to see this with eagerness rather than to see it whole. His eagerness was quite justified by the circumstance that the young man from China did somehow or other the reasons would appear after the fact represent relief, relief not made vain by the reflection that it was perhaps only temporary. Rose herself, thank heaven, was, with all her exaltation, only temporary. He could already condone the officiousness of a gentleman too inter ested in Effie’s equilibrium: the grounds of that indiscretion gleamed agreeably through it as soon as he had seen the visitor’s fingers draw together over the hand held out by Rose. It was matter to whistle over, to bustle over, that, as had been certified by Mrs. Beever, the passion betrayed by that clasp had survived its shipwreck, and there wasn’t a rope’s end Tony could throw, or a stray stick he could hold out, for which he didn’t immedi ately cast about him. He saw indeed from this moment his whole comfort in the idea of an organised rescue and of making the struggling swimmer know, as a preliminary, how little any one at the other house was interested in preventing him to land.

Dennis had, for that matter, not been two mjnutes in touch with him before he really began to see this happy perception descend. It was, in a manner, to haul him ashore to invite him to dine and sleep which Tony lost as little time as possible in doing; expressing the hope that he had not gone to the inn and that even if he had he would consent to the quick transfer of his effects to Bounds. Dennis showed that he had still some wonder for such an overture, but before he could respond to it the words were taken out of his mouth by Rose, whose recovery from her upset was complete from the moment she could seize a pretext for the extravagance of tran quillity.

“Why should you take him away from us and why should he consent to be taken? Won’t Mrs. Beever,” Rose asked of Dennis “ since you’re not snatching the fearful joy of a clandestine visit to her expect you, if you stay anywhere, to give her the preference? ”

“Allow me to remind you, and to remind Mr. Vidal,” Tony returned, “ that when he was here before he gave her the preference. Mrs. Beever made no scruple of removing him bodily from under my roof. I forfeited I was obliged to the pleasure of a visit to him. But that leaves me with my loss to make up and my revenge to take I repay Mrs. Beever in kind.” To find Rose disputing with him the possession of their friend filled him with imme diate cheer. “ Don’t you recognise,” he went on to him, “ the propriety of what I propose? I take you and deal with Mrs. Beever, as she took you and dealt with me. Besides, your things have not even been brought here as they had of old been brought to Bounds. I promise to share you with these ladies and not to grudge you the time you may wish to spend with Miss Armiger. I understand but too well the number of hours I shall find you putting in. You shall pay me a long visit and come over here as often as you like, and your presence at Bounds may even possibly have the consequence of making them honour me there a little oftener with their own.”

Dennis looked from one of his companions to the other; he struck Tony as slightly mystified, but not beyond the point at which curiosity was agreeable. “I think I had better go to Mr. Bream,” he after a moment sturdily said to Rose. “There’s a matter on which I wish to talk with you, but I don’t see that that need prevent.”

“It’s for you to determine. There’s a matter on which I find myself, to you also, particularly glad of the opportunity of saying a word.”

Tony glanced promptly at his watch and at Rose, “Your opportunity’s before you say your word now. I’ve a little job in the town,” he explained to Dennis; “ I must attend to it quickly and I can easily stop at the hotel and give directions for the removal of your traps. All you will have to do then will be to take the short way, which you know over the bridge there and through my garden to my door. We shall dine at an easy eight.”

Dennis Vidal assented to this arrangement without qualification and indeed almost without expression: there evidently lingered in him an operative sense that there were compensations Mr. Bream might be allowed the luxurious consciousness of owing him. Rose, however, showed she still had a communica tion to make to Tony, who had begun to move in the quarter leading straight from Eastmead to the town, so that he would have to pass near the house on going out. She introduced it with a question about his movements. “ You’ll stop, then, on your way and tell Mrs. Beever? ”

“Of my having appropriated our friend? Not this moment,” said Tony u I’ve to meet a man on business, and I shall only just have time. I shall if possible come back here, but meanwhile perhaps you’ll kindly explain. Come straight over and take possession,” he added, to Vidal; “ make yourself at home don’t wait for me to return to you.” He offered him a hand-shake again, and then, with his native impulse to accommodate and to harmonise making a friendly light in his face, he offered one to Rose herself. She accepted it so frankly that she even for a minute kept his hand a response that he approved with a smile so encouraging that it scarcely needed even the confirmation of speech. They stood there while Dennis Vidal turned away as if they might have matters between them, and Tony yielded to the impulse to prove to Rose that though there were things he kept from her he kept nothing that was not absolutely necessary. “ There’s some thing else I’ve got to do I’ve got to stop at the Doctor’s.”

Rose raised her eyebrows. “To consult him? ”

“To ask him to come over.”

“I hope you’re not ill.”

“Never better in my life. I want him to see Effie.”

“She’s not ill surely?”

“She’s not right with the fright Gorham had this morning. So I’m not satisfied.”

“Let him then by all means see her,” Rose said.

Their talk had, through the action of Vidal’s presence, dropped from its chilly height to the warmest domestic level, and what now stuck out of Tony was the desire she should understand that on such ground as that he was always glad to meet her. Dennis Vidal faced about again in time to be called, as it were, if only by the tone of his host’s voice, to witness this. “ A bientot. Let me hear from you and from him that in my absence you’ve been extremely kind to our friend here.”

Rose, with a small but vivid fever-spot in her cheek, looked from one of the men to the other, while her kindled eyes showed a gathered purpose that had the prompt and perceptible effect of exciting suspense. “ I don’t mind letting you know, Mr. Bream, in advance exactly how kind I shall be. It would be affectation on my part to pretend to be unaware of your already knowing something of what has passed between this gentleman and me. Me suffered, at my hands, in this place, four years ago, a disappointment a disappointment into the rights and wrongs, into the good reasons of which I won’t attempt to go further than just to say that an inevi table publicity then attached to it.” She spoke with slow and deliberate clearness, still looking from Tony to Dennis and back again; after which her strange intensity fixed itself on her old suitor. “ People saw, Mr. Vidal,” she went on, “the blight that descended on our long relations, and people believed and I was at the time indifferent to their believing that it had occurred by my act. I’m not indifferent now that is to any appearance of having been wanting in consideration for such a man as you. I’ve often wished I might make you some reparation some open atonement. I’m sorry for the distress that I’m afraid I caused you, and here, before the principal witness of the indignity you so magnani mously met, I very sincerely express my regret and very humbly beg your forgiveness.” Dennis Vidal, staring at her, had turned dead white as she kept it up, and the elevation, as it were, of her abasement had brought tears into Tony’s eyes. She saw them there as she looked at him once more, and she measured the effect she produced upon him. She visibly and excusably enjoyed it and after a moment’s pause she handsomely and pathetically completed it. “That, Mr. Bream for your injunction of kindness is the kindness I’m capable of showing.”

Tony turned instantly to their companion, who now stood staring hard at the ground. “ I change, then, my appeal I make it, with confidence, to you. Let me hear, Mr. Vidal, when we meet again, that you’ve not been capable of less!” Dennis, deeply moved, it was plain, but self-conscious and stiff, gave no sign of having heard him; and Rose, on her side, walked a little away like an actress who has launched her great stroke. Tony, between them, hesitated; then he laughed in a manner that showed he felt safe. “Oh, you’re both all right!” he declared; and with another glance at his watch he bounded off to his business. He drew, as he went, a long breath filled his lungs with the sense that he should after all have a margin. She would take Dennis back.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02